June 21, 2022
The Eagles had their best season ever running the football in 2021 — and they somehow did it without a top 10 running back (in franchise history).
Like we did with the team's history of quarterbacks, our staff decided to scour the archives and take a look at the stable of ball-carriers who've contributed to the Eagles over the last seven-plus decades. Below is a ranking of every running back in Birds' history — with a few exceptions.
We cut it off at 150 carries, which is enough to include fan favorites like Corey Clement and LeGarrette Blount. We also did not include fullbacks — a position the Eagles have a storied history at.
The rankings you see below were an average from the writers on our staff making their ranks independently. Tell us what you think:
Jimmy Kempski: Shady had the better career, but prime Westbrook was better than prime Shady. I guess it depends on what you value more – longevity or shorter bursts of greatness. Give me the latter. Westbrook would’ve been a megastar in today’s NFL.
Shamus Clancy: Brian Westbrook. What a versatile weapon who could destroy teams as a runner, receiver or returner. In a pass-happy modern NFL, he would be even better in today's game than he was during his prime. I remember the Eagles debuted their black jerseys in 2003, Westbrook's breakout season. Every kid wanted a black Westbrook jersey for Christmas. I was lucky enough to get one and it remains one of the greatest gifts ever.
Nick Tricome: Two one thousand-yard seasons, three straight championship appearances, and ultimately two titles. At his peak, Van Buren's numbers would've impressed even in today's game, back then he was unreal. A crucial piece to the dominant teams of the late 40s and one of the few numbers officially retired by the Eagles, he's one of the franchise's very best.
Jimmy: One of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen in person remains Shady in the Snow Bowl. It was like the snow affected everyone else on the field, except him.
Evan: McCoy was my pick for No. 1 on this list. I used the eyeball test. He just was incredible during his prime, which was pretty much exclusively spent in Philadelphia. The Eagles had one of the most impressive offenses in memory when Chip Kelly took over in 2013 and it still astounds me how that era went down. McCoy's trade to the Bills was one of the more shocking moments of my career as a sports journalist.
Nick: Until LeSean McCoy came around decades later, Montgomery had the franchise's single-season (1,512 yards) and all-time (6,538) rushing records, and did it all quietly. He was vital to the rise of the Dick Vermeil-led Eagles, marked by one of the most famous moments in team history, that run up the gut against Dallas in the 1980 NFC Championship Game.
Jimmy: It’s been a while since the Eagles have had a good name to yell whenever a player touches the football, like DUUUUUCE. #Analysis.
Evan: Staley was a very solid running back who became a very solid running backs coach who should have been an offensive coordinator in Philly.
Jimmy: When we think Ricky Watters, we think “For who, for what?” But Watters was a workhorse for the Eagles. The guy averaged 325 carries, 54 catches, and over 1700 yards from scrimmage per season in Philly.
Nick: Watters definitely gave the Eagles their money's worth when he arrived ahead of the 1995 season with three straight years of at least 1,000 yards rushing (1,273 in '95, 1,411 in '96, 1,110 in '97). The problem is the Ray Rhodes era Eagles only went as far as the divisional playoff round and Watters' tenure was immediately marked by one of the most infamous quotes in Philadelphia sports history.
Shamus: A huge weapon out of the backfield, Timmy Brown was the NFL leader in yards per offensive touch in both 1962 and 1965. He was robbed of a First-Team All-Pro selection in '62 when that selection went to Dallas halfback Don Perkins. Brown had more yards from scrimmage and more total touchdowns. I'm contractually obligated to bring some Cowboys venom in every story I write.
Jimmy: By the time Sproles’ Philly career was over, he had become sort of a “he’s back again?” guy, but for a few years he was a very fun player both in the regular offense and on special teams.
Nick: Sproles doesn't stand as one of the Eagles' greatest by the numbers, but his importance to the team during his six-year run there is undeniable. He did anything and everything a running back could do — run the ball, catch, return punts — and left plenty of defenders in the dust while he was at it. He saw the Eagles through the lowest of the Chip Kelly era and on through to the best of Doug Pederson's, and was a leader through it all, even when injured, contributing heavily to the 'next man up' mentality that carried the team all the way to the end in 2017. It took so much for the Eagles to finally get that Super Bowl title, and it may not have even happened had Sproles not been there to see things all the way through.
Shamus: "Runaway train! Runaway train!" LeGarrette Blount was a bad, bad man who brought championship experience from New England to Philadelphia in his lone season in midnight green. He knocked Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo into next Tuesday in the NFC Championship Game and then rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII against his old squad. A winner who brought an edge and seemed like one of the coolest Eagles ever will always draw high marks from me.
Jimmy: The Eagles didn’t know what they had in Garner, who was criminally underused in his time in Philly. Once he got out of here, the Niners and Raiders knew what to do with him.
Evan: Garner was the first running back to begin a stretch of years that saw the Birds have a bonafide starter at the RB position for more than 20 years. Garner overlapped with Waters, who overlapped with Staley, who overlapped with Westbrook, who overlapped with McCoy. And then the team traded McCoy and brought in DeMarco Murray.
Evan: Coming from someone who had Sanders in fantasy and got no touchdowns last season, Sanders has the talent to be a top running back in the NFL but for whatever reason — be it a lack of opportunities or a lack of execution — he's fallen short of those expectations. It'll be interesting to see if he signs a second contract with the Eagles.
Shamus: Tom Sullivan led the NFL with 11 rushing touchdowns in 1974 for a 7-7 Eagles team. Not bad for 15th-round pick!
Jimmy: The picture of Buckhalter contorting his body while airborne and extending the ball over the goal line in a game against Miami was a classic.
Nick: Buckhalter was a player who always felt like there was more to but could just never fully realize it. When he was on the field, he was a fairly decent and reliable back and complimented Westbrook pretty nicely. The thing is he had to be on the field. He missed three seasons entirely (2002, 2004, and 2005) due to knee injuries and was suspended a couple of times by Andy Reid. It's tough for any running back to get fully going with that much time lost, and Buckhalter never really did.
Jimmy: Anyone remember “Honk for Herschel?” Also, is he in the news for something else this week?
Evan: Walker is a MAGA Senate candidate running in Georgia who has had more than one secret child. He also was a petty decent running back for the Eagles in his early 30s following two breakout years in Dallas. Not sure which chapter of his life is more interesting.
|16||Boston Scott||992, 13|
|17||Billy Ray Barnes||2,391, 20|
|18||Dorsey Levens||821, 5|
|19||Ryan Mathews||1,200, 14|
|20||Ernest Jackson||1,028, 5|
|21||Jordan Howard||958, 9|
|22||Ernie Steele||1,337, 13|
|23||Bryce Brown||878, 6|
Evan: Going into this, I did not expect to see Ryan Mathews and Boston Scott as two of the top 20 running backs ever to play for the Eagles but here we are. Scott specifically has been particularly memorable and perhaps indispensable after making the team as an UDFA.
Shamus: Boston Scott would be top five if he played against the Giants every week. Jordan Howard was improbably good for the Eagles in 2021, helping them shift to a run-heavy attack that led them to the postseason. He actually averaged more yards per attempt in his Eagles career than he did three-year stint in Chicago that included multiple 1,100-plus rushing seasons.
|24||Cyril Pinter||1,083, 3|
|25||Michael Haddix||1,189, 3|
|26||James Joseph||783, 4|
|27||Wendell Smallwood||850, 5|
|28||Po James||1,215, 4|
|29||Billy Campbell||649, 5|
|30||Toy Ledbetter||729, 3|
|31||Hal Giancanelli||711, 4|
|32||Izzy Lang||872, 4|
Evan: You're not going to find a better grouping of names than this one. Cyril. Smallwood. Toy. Po. Izzy. #Awesome
Shamus: Wendell Smallwood scored a touchdown in an Eagles win during the Super Bowl season. Put him in Canton. Izzy Lang sounds like a member of a hair metal band. Michael Haddix was the eighth pick in the 1983 NFL Draft. Players selected after him in the first two rounds include Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Darrell Green and Roger Craig. Not ideal!
|33||James McAlister||600, 1|
|34||Vaughn Hebron||622, 5|
|35||DeMarco Murray||702, 6|
|36||Louie Giammona||532, 6|
|37||Jim Leonard||450, 2|
|38||Norm Bulaich||588, 1|
Jimmy: Murray was the second-biggest jerk I ever covered.
Evan: Norm Bulaich had 156 carries and 11 fumbles. That's one fumble every 14 touches.
Shamus: I had a buddy in college who once accidentally called DeMarco Murray "DeMario Murray" and it became such a running joke that I now call him "DeMario" in normal conversation and I get worried I'm going to accidentally write that in an article at some point. Anyway, he was a loser. I had DeMario dead last on my rankings.
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